“Yes it hurts”: Mothering Work, Labor Pains & Possibility
© 2016 by Binahkaye Joy
I recently wrote an essay about the calling to be a mother. It pulled on a lot of heart strings. This was extremely intentional. I am going through an initiation as a mothering work practitioner and fertility juju priestess. As part of my development, I am learning how to bring very complicated conversations about mothering work into spaces of loving and transformative visibility. I promise you that everything your read from me from now on will be crafted with an intensely personal lens of my own process, the use of radically vulnerable language, and an open invitation for you to also look deeply within yourself and express your own truths.
I believe this sort of rigorous and mindful inquiry is essential for any sustainable revolution for all the mothers and mothering hearts on this planet. Our mothering work, our rights as mothers, our children’s access to happy and whole lives, have been oppressed by countless systemic and generational violations. Some of us are dying under these unnamed, anti-mothering regimes. Inadequate or non-existent paid maternity leave. Denied the option for vaginal birth after cesarean. Can’t afford childcare. Can’t afford healthcare. Judged for not choosing to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of the children. Judged for choosing to have a child without a man in the picture. Lack of support for breastfeeding. Ineligibility for comprehensive insurance coverage for IVF. Embattled with a court system that does not care about you or your child. Perpetually skirting poverty because being your own children’s primary caregiver pays nothing. Surrounded on all sides by a community that is poorly equipped to hold space for mothers who are grieving.
For many of us, our deaths are invisible. Here we are breathing, birthing, walking, talking, being, living like normal, right? But what of the quality of our spirits? What of the hearts we keep having to mend whenever another one of our children is lynched by the mob? What of the persistently high blood pressure, the alarming incidence of uterine fibroids in black women, the chronic stress plaguing even our happy moments because we have never been assured that our humanity is worth protecting? What of the fragility of our dreams, forced daily to share conscious space with the seen and unseen dangers of navigating a society anchored in racism, rape culture, and other forms of violence against women? What is our prognosis of hope? How many of us, I wonder, have been suffering quietly, and feeling too ashamed, or too afraid, to admit that something is hurting, and has been for a very long time?
The first step in healing from pain is admitting what hurts. When I compose these essays, I am leaning into this belief that until we name it, we will not be able to understand it, or create a holistic way toward lasting peace and wellness within ourselves, families, and communities. Let me be very clear, I think it is imperative that we unearth all these layers of pain in order to heal from them. I respect this is not everyone’s practice. But if you do resonate with my work, I am committed to being here for you as you courageously reach deeper into your capacity to heal and transform your mothering path. Really, I am here for all of us, even if we never even speak a word to each other. The fact that you are a mother, or that you are the child of a mother, means I hold you up in the greatest love, and genuinely do want the best for you and your family.
Part of my purpose in this life is to generate new and accessible pathways to liberation for our mothering journeys. To do this we have to be willing to engage in and be supportive of actions that lead us to confront our fears, identify our traumas, process our choices, and illuminate our possibilities. The labor of mothering work is everlasting. Most people think only of childbirth when they hear labor, but labor extends beyond that brief and miraculous moment. In fact, some mothers don’t even experience physical pain when giving birth to their children.
This labor I’m speaking of is largely emotional, mental, spiritual, and oftentimes still very physical. Labor takes on a variety of shapes and functions in every mother’s life. Some labor through the search for a life partner for the family they dream of having. Some labor with conceiving a child, or making the decision to explore alternate routes to motherhood when there are fertility challenges. Some labor as a co-parent with the father(s) of their children. Some labor with raising their children away from their home and family. Some labor through the grief of losing their own mother. Some labor through the relentless financial perils of living in cities where they are being continuously priced out of safe and affordable housing. Some labor with caring for children with special needs. Some labor with the recovery of surviving abusive relationships. Some labor with feeling beautiful in their new mothering bodies.
Labor, however it comes, is inevitable. There is no way out of this work if you are going to be a mother. It’s guaranteed that some part of this journey will hurt. Growth, change, becoming stronger, becoming wiser, these are not conveniently smooth transitions. Nothing in nature just appears; everything works hard and endures much in the evolution of its becoming. We mothers are no different because we are a part of the natural order of life. Along our mothering journeys, we experience many stages of development, traverse seasons of resistance and release, discover patterns of expansion and contraction, witness moments of profound breakthrough and also moments of subtle progress. Daily we face the totality of life, death, loss, despair, resilience, restoration, joy, humor, sadness, numbness, terror, love, faith, hope, and more. We encounter it all.
I started writing this piece because of some of the feedback I got about how intense and difficult parts of what I wrote in the essay “You might need to be a mother to feel whole in this life” were to receive. I know some of my words felt like blows, perhaps they even drew blood. It is never easy for me to say things that will potentially bring about pain for someone. However, I definitely trust my mothering practice more than I am afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. For more than a decade now, I have sat with and simmered inside these dark and scary spaces of inquiry through multiple miscarriages, toxic relationships, trials of grief, and prolonged droughts of creativity. These essays I post, the books I’m working on, the creative community I founded for black women mothering creatives, all of this is born from years of cultivating an acute awareness of my motherself. Until now, I have walked my path mostly in silence, mostly invisible, mostly alone, and mostly in great fear about the level of transparency my work will have to achieve in order to fully realize my calling in this life.
As uncomfortable, triggering, disturbing, and painful some of what I will share with you might be, it is impossible for me to bring you anything less than the truth that my mothering labors have revealed to me. It is also detrimental to my sanity, spiritual powers, and responsibility as a healer to hold back when I know that there are tangible ways out of the cycles of depression, anger, sickness, pain, and trauma that have been historically devastating for mothers and women in my community.
I am not interested in merely stopping the bleeding before we figure out the source of the bleeding. That’s how infections take over. That’s how we perpetuate the masking of our hearts, pretend we are out of touch with our intuition, and essentially avoid the labor we know we’ve been called to do. Everything I’m proposing on this path to a radically liberated mothering reality is work. Immersive, messy, eternal, soul-stirring work. Given all we’ve already overcome to be where we are today, the acknowledgment of pain is a very necessary beginning. For many of us, it is the first indication of what methods of healing might finally be possible.
Binahkaye Joy lives in Washington, DC with her husband James, and their sons, Bloom and Wonder. She is available for in-person and virtual workshops, speaking engagements, and private sessions. For booking and programming information send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.